On March 19, 2017 YouTube updated what the website considered ‘restricted’, which was met with swift backlash. The backlash came when many users noticed that videos that fell under ‘restriction’, happen to be centered around LGBT+ content. Tyler Oakley, YouTube content creator, saw his video entitled “8 Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Inspire Me” no longer available to some of his subscribers due to their age, while Tegan and Sara saw their music videos Alligator, That Girl, and U-Turn restricted as well. A restriction label on a video is supposed to help schools, libraries, parents, or anyone in charge of minors, filter through what is deemed appropriate the for eighteen and younger crowd. In the help page YouTube describes restricted mode as “community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content. Restricted mode is available in all languages, but due to potential cultural sensitivities, the quality may vary.” While the restricted category is helpful many wondered how a multimillion dollar company could drop the ball. Noticing the public outcry, YouTube posted the following message to its YouTube Creators twitter page in response to the backlash:
“We are so proud to represent LGBTQ+ voices on our platform — they’re a key part of what YouTube is all about. The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be. We regret any confusion this has caused and are looking into your concerns. We appreciate your feedback and passion for making YouTube such an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant community.”
Just because a video is restricted does not mean it is taken off the website. On the support page, YouTube states, “restricted Mode is an optional setting that you can use to help screen out potentially mature content that you may prefer not to see or don’t want others in your family to see.” By labeling LGBTQ+ videos as ‘restricted’ the message YouTube is inadvertently sending is that LGBTQ+ content is bad. Its something that should not be shared freely. Many YouTubers have voiced their concern that by restricting this content it makes it harder for younger people in the LGBTQ+ community to process their sexuality. Videos about coming out, struggling with suicide, and advice have been put on restriction to those who need it the most. Granted, if users do not have restriction turned on then this does not affect them, but if they are “in the closet” looking at YouTube videos at the library or their school may be their only way of finding comfort in their sexuality. Schools and libraries happen to have restriction on.
But how could YouTube alienate a good portion of its viewers by labeling their identity as ‘restricted’ in the first place? It comes down to a filter mishap. Before videos were considered restricted if they contained nudity or dramatized sexual conduct when the context is appropriately not educational, documentary, scientific or artistic; violence; swearing; or involved activities that have a high risk of injury or death. In the new rules, some videos that deal with health, politics, and sexuality are restricted. These videos aren’t removed and are still accessible to those 18 over or those who do not have the restriction on. Health, politics, and sexuality are topics that happen to be in a lot of videos that deal with LGBTQ+. The intentions were good, but the execution did not deliver. Working fast to right some wrongs, YouTube released a statement saying they were working hard to un-restrict some videos, “Our system sometimes make mistakes in understanding context and nuances when it assesses which videos to make available in Restricted Mode… While the system will never be 100 percent perfect, as we said up top, we must and will do a better job…We’ll also be using this [user’s feedback] input to better train our systems.”
It hasn’t been confirmed why the restriction rules have changed because YouTube hasn’t released an official statement on the decision to change the restrictions. Instead, YouTube released several statements about people’s concerns. It’s hard not to wonder if this change is a response to the outcry from advertisers whose ads were shown before extremist videos. Back in August YouTube changed the advertiser-friendly content guidelines because some popular videos were not getting proper compensation since they were not considered advertiser-friendly. This could be just a (mis)step in trying to please advertisers, YouTube content creators, and viewers.